The Holy See

ACERBO NIMIS
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS X
ON TEACHING CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
TO THE PATRIARCHS, PRIMATES,
ARCHBISHOPS, BISHOPS, AND OTHER ORDINARIES
IN PEACE AND COMMUNION WITH THE APOSTOLIC SEE

 
Venerable Brethren,
Health and the Apostolic Blessing.

At this very troublesome and difficult time, the hidden designs of God have conducted Our poor
strength to the office of Supreme pastor, to rule the entire flock of Christ. The enemy has, indeed,
long been prowling about the fold and attacking it with such subtle cunning that now, more than
ever before, the prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of Ephesus seems to be
verified: "I know that . . . fierce wolves will get in among you, and will not spare the flock."[1] Those
who still are zealous for the glory of God are seeking the causes and reasons for this decline in
religion. Coming to a different explanation, each points out, according to his own view, a different
plan for the protection and restoration of the kingdom of God on earth. But it seems to Vs,
Venerable Brethren, that while we should not overlook other considerations, We are forced to
agree with those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it were, infirmity
of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to be found above all in ignorance of things
divine. This is fully in accord with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: "And
there is no knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and adultery have
overflowed: and blood hath touched blood. Thereafter shall the land mourn, and everyone that
dwelleth in it shall languish."[2]

2. It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of
Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. And
when we mention Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life
- for these find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands of their harsh
employers hardly leave them time to take care of themselves or of their dear ones - but We refer

" gladness. For the will of man retains but little of that divinely implanted love of virtue and righteousness by which it was. are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. 4. Grace. is signed upon us. let it not even be named among you. They have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin. its Author. Therefore. attracted strongly toward the real and not merely apparent good. . This erring will. Benedict XIV. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and. are entirely unknown to them. repeatedly admonished them in these words: "But immorality and every uncleanness or covetousness. 2 to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and. The intellect itself is this guide. how tranquilly they repose there. what is most deplorable of all. blinded by its own evil desires. There is then. The Apostle Paul. or to the teachings of the faith of Christ."[6] Then he described the effect of this light by adding: "Thou hast given gladness in my heart. the priest is obliged to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of religion. that is. has need therefore of a guide to lead it back to the paths of justice whence it has so unfortunately strayed. . as become saints. a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul to greater love for God. and then calmly faces the fearful passage to eternity without making his peace with God. And so they arrive at life's end in such a condition that. though. it improperly turns every affection to a love of vanity and deceit. And even this as too often happens only when the dying man is not so sinfully ignorant as to look upon the ministration of the priest as useless. not only among uncivilized peoples but even in those very nations that are called Christian. and ever increasingly greater. exclaimed: "The light of Thy countenance. Venerable Brethren. that. will be only an instance of the blind leading the blind so that both will fall into the pit. brethren. And so Our Predecessor. which enlarges our heart so that it runs in the way of God's Commandments. lest all hope of salvation be lost. no reason for wonder that the corruption of morals and depravity of life is already so great."[4] He also places the foundation of holiness and sound morals upon a knowledge of divine things . do not become foolish. All this becomes evident on a little reflection. the knowledge of divine things. O Lord. as it were. that you walk with care: not as unwise but as wise. but understand what the will of the Lord is. the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things. Disordered by the stain of the first sin. the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace. It is a guide."[3] 3. but is provided by nature itself. the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God. indeed. which need not be sought elsewhere. They rarely give thought to God. or obscenity or foolish talk. hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it."[5] And rightly so. and almost forgetful of God. if it lack its companion light. nothing of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. writing to the Ephesians. had just cause to write: "We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect. Christian teaching reveals God and His infinite .which holds in check evil desires: "See to it therefore. The holy king David. praising God for the light of truth with which He had illumined the intellect.

not in strife and jealousy. and thereby we avoid prudence of the flesh. 5. The truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father. Venerable Brethren. nevertheless is it not true that the proud man is urged and commanded by the teaching of Christ to strive for humility. "not of revelry and drunkenness. turn aside from the right path. . which is of the heart."[8] From that same teaching we learn prudence of the spirit. and with Whom he is destined to live in eternal happiness. How many and how grave are the consequences of ignorance in matters of religion! And on the other hand. which is of the will. by command of Christ. and should live here as become children of light. We by no means wish to conclude that a perverse will and unbridled conduct may not be joined with a knowledge of religion. but if lack of faith is added to depraved morality because of ignorance. and. and thus the whole man is subjected to the supreme Maker and Ruler of all things. Without wishing to touch on every detail. On them. Nor is that all. first of all. Christ showed that men should love one another as brothers. 3 perfection with far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone. but from it our will draws that ardor by which we are raised up to God and joined with Him in the practice of virtue. there is always some hope for a reform of perverse conduct so long as the light of faith is not entirely extinguished." God promised through Jeremias. which is of the mind. by which we give to every man his due. nay. last of all. . is also revealed only by the doctrine of Jesus Christ. fortitude. A man who walks with open eyes may. how necessary and how beneficial is religious instruction! It is indeed vain to expect a fulfillment of the duties of a Christian by one who does not even know them. indeed. we even glory in the cross itself. therefore. in Whose image he is formed."[7] He also bids us to place all our anxiety and care in the hands of God. to teach. temperance through which we cherish even poverty borne out of love for God. which prepares us to endure all things and with steadfast heart suffer all things for the sake of God and eternal happiness. Christian teaching not only bestows on the intellect the light by which it attains truth. "and they shall feed you with knowledge and . Would to God that facts did not too abundantly prove the contrary! But We do maintain that the will cannot be upright nor the conduct good when the mind is shrouded in the darkness of crass ignorance. "I will give you pastors according to my own heart. and the road to ruin lies open. This same Christian teaching also commands us to honor God by faith. 7. and to prefer the eternal welfare of the soul to the temporal goods of this life. for He will provide for us. In fine. rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the flocks committed to their care. He tells us to help the poor. unmindful of its shame. We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation to dissipate this most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its stead the knowledge that is wholly indispensable. and to feed implies. the source of true glory? "Whoever. by love. that this most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls. From this very dignity. humbles himself. Furthermore. we learn justice. not in debauchery and wantonness. but a blind man is in much more imminent danger of wandering away. by hope. There can be no doubt. and from man's knowledge of it. 6. to do good to those who hate us. the evil hardly admits of remedy. he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

If what We have just said is applicable to all priests. For this reason the Council of Trent. will be the zeal and labor expended in teaching and admonishing. Why? Because the Christian people expect from them knowledge of the divine law. must explain the truths of religion at least on Sundays and feast days to the children of the parish. because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts. then. "grow up in all things in him who is the head. Christ. 4 doctrine."[15] 11. Who. will deny that knowledge should be joined to holiness of life in the priest? "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge.[16] It therefore prescribes that they shall teach the truths of religion on Sundays and on the more solemn feast days. tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men. and it was for that end that they were sent by God. but to preach the gospel. . nothing more acceptable to Jesus Christ. When the Sacraments are to be administered."[13] Thus the bishop speaking to the candidates for the priesthood in the ordination ceremony says: "Let your teaching be a spiritual remedy for God's people."[11] 9. is more desirable. and thus meditating day and night on His law. Here then it is well to emphasize and insist that for a priest there is no duty more grave or obligation more binding than this. by virtue of their rank and in a sense by virtue of a contract. decreed that their first and most important work is the instruction of the faithful. and teach what they shall believe. however. it enjoins upon pastors the duty to explain their efficacy in plain and simple language. hold the office of pastors of souls? These are." they may. assuredly. surely. the Savior of souls. If."[10] thereby indicating that the first duty of all those who are entrusted in any way with the government of the Church is to instruct the faithful in the things of God."[12] The Church demands this knowledge of those who are to be ordained to the priesthood. was not considered enough. and inculcate obedience to God and to their parents. 8. they may believe what they read. does it not apply with much greater force to those who possess the title and the authority of parish priests. either personally or through others. "And they shall seek the law at his mouth. the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in order that the faithful might not be as "children. the alms with which we relieve the needs of the poor are highly praised by the Lord." but that practicing "the truth in love. how much more precious in His eyes. may they be worthy fellow-workers of our order."[9] Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ did not send me to baptize."[14] 10. This. by which we provide not for the passing needs of the body but for the eternal profit of the soul! Nothing. treating of the duties of pastors of souls. moreover during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent they are to give such instruction every day or at least three times a week. to a certain extent. indeed. Who testifies of Himself through Isaias: "To bring good news to the poor he has sent me. We do not think it necessary to set forth here the praises of such instruction or to point out how meritorious it is in God's sight. and who. The Council provided for the instruction of youth by adding that the pastors.

But this in Our opinion is a judgment based on vanity and devoid of truth. and since amendment of life is the chief aim of his instruction. Catechetical instruction. and they labor in vain who build the house. out of genuine zeal for the glory of God. We do not disapprove of those pulpit orators who.thus moving his hearers and clearly pointing out to them how they are to regulate their own conduct. that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law to the youth and others who need such instruction. then the foundation is wanting. in his Constitution Esti minime. After this. It is. 14. and return no more thither. They are surely to be commended for their zeal." he wrote. and make it to spring and give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: so shall my word be. 5 12. Perhaps there are some who. "have been imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first. And so if this be lacking. Church history. Catechetical instruction. is the word of which God Himself speaks through the lips of the prophet Isaias: "And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven. he will use examples appropriately taken from the Holy Scriptures. on the other hand. and second. We are indeed aware that the work of teaching the Catechism is unpopular with many because as a rule it is deemed of little account and for the reason that it does not lend itself easily to the winning of public praise. so to speak. but how many are there who read these works and take from them a fruit commensurate with the labor and intention of the writers? The teaching of the Catechism. the catechist must needs make a comparison between what God commands us to do and what is our actual conduct. 13. But for one who reflects a moment. earnestly exhort all present to dread and avoid vice and to practice virtue. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. in conclusion. bread broken for adults. is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to desire in all simplicity like newborn babes. would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of catechetical instruction. on the other hand. Too often it happens that ornate sermons which receive the applause of crowded congregations serve but to tickle the ears and fail utterly to touch the hearts of the hearers. But their labor presupposes labor of another kind." Here the wise Pontiff rightly distinguishes between these two duties: one is what is commonly known as the explanation of the Gospel and the other is the teaching of Christian doctrine. The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of faith or of Christian morality and then explain it in all its parts. . "Two chief obligations. that of preaching the things of God to the people on the feast days. It shall not return to me void. on the other hand. These prescriptions of the Council of Trent have been summarized and still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor. which shall go forth from my mouth. devote themselves to defense of the faith and to its spread. and the lives of the saints . He should. such is obviously impossible. but soak the earth and water it. or who eulogize the saints of God. when rightly done. wishing to lessen their labors."[17] We believe the same may be said of those priests who work hard to produce books which explain the truths of religion. but it shall do whatsoever I please and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. plain and simple though it be. Benedict XIV. that of the catechist. never fails to profit those who listen to it.

"[19] 16. but also among those in the higher walks of life. It will not do to say. or who possess at most only such knowledge of God and Christian truths as befits idolaters. as it were. that if faith languishes in our days. therefore. in excuse. the habit of faith is given. These persons are found. alas. not only among the young. but among adults and those advanced in years. "How are they to hear.[21] and to show the necessity of instruction. and where such is neglected. relying upon a vain erudition. and hearing on the word of Christ". Thus wrote the Apostle: "Faith then depends on hearing. he added. therefore. is not like the mustard seed which "grows up. who on hearing the name of Christ can only ask? "Who is he. the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected. and to make it active. who know nothing of the chief mysteries of faith. to do business in dishonest fashion. Venerable Brethren. too. thereby multiplying their sins above the number of the hairs of the head. that faith is a free gift of God bestowed upon each one at Baptism. ignorant of the law of Christ which not only condemns immoral actions but also forbids deliberate immoral thoughts and desires. the Christian. feel free to ridicule religion and to "deride whatever they do not know. They are. when we are baptized in Christ. do by Our Supreme Authority enact the following regulations and strictly command that they be observed and carried out in all dioceses of the world. even. Now. We again insist on the need to reach the ever-increasing numbers of those who know nothing at all of religion. Benedict XIV. How many there are. We. desirous of fulfilling this most important obligation of Our Teaching Office. we deem it necessary to repeat. Even when for some reason or other they avoid sensual pleasures. moreover. that I may believe in him?"[18] In consequence of this ignorance. for in the words of Our Predecessor. if we cannot expect to reap a harvest when no seed has been planted. . so to speak. if left entirely to itself. how can we hope to have a people with sound morals if Christian doctrine has not been imparted to them in due time? It follows. among those puffed up with learning. So too. . by its own power. but he requires the word of the teaching Church to nourish and develop it and to make it bear fruit. . We ought. True enough. if no one preaches?"[22] 17. indeed. to do all that lies in our power to maintain the teaching of Christian doctrine with full vigor. and puts out great branches. born again of water and the Holy Spirit. What We have said so far demonstrates the supreme importance of religious instruction."[20] Man has the faculty of understanding at his birth. if among large numbers it has almost vanished."[23] 18. not merely among the poorer classes of the people or in sparsely settled districts. to restore it. but this most divine seed. to hold the funds of others at an exorbitant interest rate. In order to enkindle the zeal of the ministers of God. who. has faith within him. . and likewise wishing to introduce uniformity everywhere in so weighty a matter. . "There is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls. 6 15. and to commit other iniquities no less reprehensible. they nevertheless entertain evil thoughts without the least scruple. they do not consider it a crime to excite and nourish hatred against their neighbor. but he also has need of his mother's word to awaken it. to enter into most unjust contracts.

did not speak to them. colleges and secondary schools are located."[25] yet spoke "all . on the days following Easter. by a continued instruction over a period of days. 24. . and without parables . 25. Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no less than the young. We decree and command this by virtue of Our Apostolic Authority. V. With a very special zeal. with no exception. . who will take up the work of imparting knowledge both from a zeal for the glory of God and in order to gain the numerous Indulgences granted by the Sovereign Pontiffs. In each and every parish the society known as the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine is to be canonically established. 20. IV. At certain times throughout the year. . things to the crowds in parables. but not during the same hour when the children are instructed. On every Sunday and holy day. and especially where universities. the pastors. that they be not carried out carelessly or superficially. especially in places where there is a scarcity of priests. The catechetical instruction shall be based on the Catechism of the Council of Trent. you must exhort and urge your pastors not to impart these instructions without having first prepared themselves in the work. what amounts to the same thing. 22."[26] We know that the . the Ten Commandments. though He revealed "things hidden since the foundation of the world. they shall instruct with the use of apt illustrations and exhortations the youth of both sexes to receive their first Communion in a holy manner. but "in simplicity and godly sincerity. treatment will be given to the Apostles' Creed. 21. Who. let classes in religion be organized to instruct in the truths of faith and in the practice of Christian life the youths who attend the public schools from which all religious teaching is banned. 7 19. they shall prepare boys and girls to receive properly the Sacraments of Penance and Confirmation. 23."[24] imitating the example of Jesus Christ. throughout the year. III. if necessary. and the matter is to be divided in such a way that in the space of four or five years. Through this Confraternity. all pastors and those having the care of souls shall explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to the intelligence of their hearers. for the space of an hour from the text of the Catechism on those things they must believe and do in order to attain salvation. It now rests with you to put it into prompt and complete execution in your respective dioceses. That this may be avoided. . II. VI. and by the power of your authority to see to it that these prescriptions of Ours be not neglected or. shall instruct the boys and girls. the Sacraments. will have lay helpers in the teaching of the Catechism. the Lord's Prayer and the Precepts of the Church. Then they will not merely speak words of human wisdom. In the larger cities. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation. and this instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days. at such time as is most convenient for the people. Venerable Brethren. all parish priests and in general all those having the care of souls. I. on every day in Lent and.

the less educated the hearers. far surpass the natural understanding of the people.14. Osee 4:1-3.9. 4:14. cap. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Immaculate Virgin. We do not. see to it and urge on others that the knowledge of Christian doctrine pervades and imbues fully and deeply the minds of all. Sess. Ps. the more zeal and diligence must be used to adapt the sublime truths to their untrained minds.on the contrary."[27] In matters of religion. 8 Apostles. the majority of men in our times must be considered uninstructed. Given at Rome. yet must be known by all . indeed. And now.in order that they may arrive at eternal happiness. 4 &7. Jer. They are mistaken who think that because of inexperience and lack of training of the people the work of catechizing can be performed in a slipshod fashion. did the same. using the words of the Apostle Peter. You have doubtless accomplished many useful and most praiseworthy works in your respective dioceses for the good of the flock entrusted to your care. 18:4. Mal. "According to the gift that each has received. 27. these truths. 2."[28] We pray and entreat you to reflect on the great loss of souls due solely to ignorance of divine things.SS:10-11. Eph. may your diligent efforts be made fruitful by the Apostolic Blessing which.6. however. Here.3. It is much easier to find a preacher capable of delivering an eloquent and elaborate discourse than a catechist who can impart a catechetical instruction which is praiseworthy in every detail. On the contrary. De Reform.. in token of Our affection and as a pledge of heavenly favors. 3: 15.15.. 13:13. 5:15-16.19. on the fifteenth day of April. who were taught by the Lord. in the second year of Our Pontificate.8. 5:34. Luke 4:18. IS. Sess. let him join with me. Venerable Brethren. at Saint Peter's. let him always remember that he will never be able to teach Christian doctrine to children or to adults without first giving himself to very careful study and preparation. XXII.the uneducated and the cultured . De Reform. permit Us to close this letter by addressing to you these words of Moses: "If any man be on the Lord's side. 27:18.11. V. We wholeheartedly impart to you and to your clergy and people. cap.20.13. Ibid. Rom. Matt.4:7. 1:17. for of them Pope Saint Gregory wrote: "They took supreme care to preach to the uninstructed simple truths easy to understand.5.2. Roman Pontifical. Eph.18. Instit."[29] 28. Jude 10. Acts 20:29. wish to give the impression that this studied simplicity in imparting instruction does not require labor and meditation .10. Is. XXIV. 1905. We say.17. 2:7.16.  PIUS X 1. I Cor. 8. Mark . and with all possible zeal and diligence and care. administer it to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.12. not things deep and difficult. 26. cap.7. but before all else.4. No matter what natural facility a person may have in ideas and language. it demands both more than any other kind of preaching. John 9:36. Eph. Sess.

I Pet.29. 26. I. Rom.1:12..25.24. Ex. 13. Etsi minime. 10:17.23. 14.Libreria Editrice Vaticana . Constitution. 34. 9 4:32. cap. 4:10. Ibid. II Cor. 13:35.22. 17.     ©   Copyright .. Ibid. 32:26.26. Matt. Morals.21.27.28.